With 15 weeks down and only two to go, let’s take a look at where things stands for the teams in, trying to get in, and trying to secure the best possible spot in the AFC playoff tree.
This isn’t completely and totally comprehensive with every possible permutation, but it’s close. Next week, we’ll outline every remaining scenario.
Ravens (12-2): The AFC North champions can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a single win (at Browns, vs. Steelers) or with one loss by both the Chiefs and the Patriots.
Patriots (11-3): They’ve clinched a playoff berth, and the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the eleventh straight year with a win (vs. Bills, vs. Dolphins), or with a Week 17 loss by the Bills to the Jets. With two wins or one win and one Chiefs loss, the Patriots would clinch a bye. With two wins and two Ravens losses, the Patriots would secure the No. 1 seed.
Chiefs (10-4): The AFC West Champions can secure the No. 2 seed with two wins and a Patriots loss, with one win and two Patriots losses and a Buffalo loss to the Jets, and one Houston loss. The Chiefs will win the No. 1 seed with two wins and two Ravens losses, plus at least one loss by the Patriots.
Texans (9-5): They’ll clinch the AFC South with a win at the Buccaneers on Saturday, or with a Titans loss on Sunday to the Saints and a Colts loss to the Saints or on Sunday vs. the Panthers. If the Texans lose to the Bucs and the Titans beat the Saints, the Week 17 rematch between Houston and Tennessee would become the AFC South championship.
Bills (10-4): They’ve clinched a playoff berth. They’ll win the AFC East by winning their last two games (at Patriots, vs. Jets), and if the Patriots lose in Week 17 against the Dolphins. The No. 2 seed is also possible.
Steelers (8-6): The Steelers clinch a wild-card berth with wins in the final two weeks of the season, at the Jets and at the Ravens.
Titans (8-6): They win the AFC South by beating the Saints on Sunday and the Texans in Week 17, if the Texans also lose to the Buccaneers on Saturday. A wild-card berth hinges on winning twice and seeing the Steelers lose at least once.
Colts (6-7): They’ll be eliminated with a loss to the Saints on Monday night. Beating the Saints would give the Colts a chance at the No. 6 seed. (We’ll figure out the permutations if they beat the Saints tonight in New Orleans.)
The Browns and Raiders still are mathematically alive, but their chances are currently too remote to map it all out now. If they’re still alive next week, we’ll tell you how they can get in.
UPDATE 11:14 p.m. ET: The Colts are out.